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ROAD TO SOMEWHERE

20-12-2006

How pleasant to live in an urbanstreet nearthe city centre but which is closed to traffic. Laurence Inman wonders why the rich and powerful somehow get luckier than the rest of us (and as the man used to say, the clue is in the question).

If you thought the residents of Amesbury Road were blessed with special attention and consideration fromBirmingham Council (see last week's article here), you should walk round the corner and have a look at Park Hill.

This is a particularly lovely, leafy suburban road. From Preedy's quite pretty St Anne's Church (1874) it sweeps downhill from the busy Alcester Road between busy Moseley and busy Kings Heath, joining the busy Salisbury Road near Cannon Hill Park and Edgbaston Cricket Ground, on the busy Edgbaston Road.

You get the picture. The roads in this area are very, very busy. During the morning and evening rush-hours Moseley village and Salisbury Road are choked with crawling queues of cars.

Park Hill itself, however, is never busy. No traffic ever spoils its calm serenity. Residents there never have to wipe accumulations of black grit (diesel particulates) from their windows. Their children can play safely in the street, secure in the knowledge that no boy-racer with booming speakers will nudge them into oblivion. No police cars scream down there, sirens wailing, at all hours of the day and night.

This is because at the bottom of Park Hill there is a scruffy set of bollards. Effectively it has been gated off. And so, by extension, have the roads which feed onto it, Augusta Road and Chantry Road.

Why ? When were the bollards put there ? Are they permanent or temporary? Trying to get answers to these questions….well, you might just as well try to juggle soot.

I have spoken to many councillors about this matter. Councillors, remember, are elected by voters in their wards, are supposed to protect the interests of all theirconstituents, rich or poor, and should, ideally, tell us the truth about what they're up to.

Anyway, when you mention the Park Hill bollards to a councillor you'll see a wary, distant look appear on his or her face. It could mean I don't know what you're talking about. More likely it means I do know, but I'm buggered if I'm going to tell you what I know.

The only thing I've ever heard which approximates to an explanation is that they're there because of ‘a problem with prostitutes.' This is a complete lie and an insult to the intelligence, but it has been trotted out so often, and for so long, that even the people who originated it now believe it themselves!

It doesn't even begin to make sense. Ask anyone who has any experience of having to deal with these problems; they'll tell you that closing off the streets in a red-light area only makes things more troublesome. In reality, the fact that the ‘problem' didn't get noticeably worse as soon as the bollards appeared is proof that there was no problem in the first place.

Closing off a street is such an extreme step. That it should be done in response to complaints about prostitution is very unlikely. It was certainly an option which was never available to residents in the areas which used to have a genuine problem with prostitutes, on the other side of the main road; they had to organise their own campaign, taking car numbers and confronting punters, often at personal risk of injury from pimps and the girls themselves.

So how was it so easy to close off Park Hill ? Well, let's look at the type of person who lives there, and in neighbouring Chantry Road.

Houses in this area are vast Victorian and Edwardian piles. Pretty soon, they will be worth a million pounds each. Some probably are already. But it's not the kind of place that would attract your smart young yuppie, who would prefer an apartment in a converted warehouse in Hockley, or a corpulent businessman whose natural habitat is a new mansion in Solihull.

People in this area of Moseley, sometimes unkindly called Mosa Nostra, are academics, journalists, senior health service managers, law officers for the council, high-up local government officials, media ‘personalities', that sort of person.

You see what I'm saying ? Since university days they've been used to thinking of themselves as a bit bohemian and a bit leftish, although that wouldn't stop them sending their kids to selective schools or, as one famous family did, change their religion twice in one year in a failed attempt to blag their way into one or other of the more desirable faith schools in the area.

Their education, background and general arrogance make them believe that they are entitled to things, like a quiet road to go with their expensive house. They have easy social and professional access to people who can help them get what they want. They know who to approach, how to make an approach and how much of an approach to make.

So how's it done ? How do you get a through road blocked off ? I can tell you how it was done a few years ago in certain smart parts of Holloway, Islington and Highgate.

First, you all get together, over a dinner party perhaps, and decide who's going to complain to who about a supposed ‘prostitution problem.' Some of you call the police, some write to the council, some approach a councillor personally.

None of these bodies will, or can, actually do anything, even if a problem existed, but that doesn't matter, because you have created a record of complaints, something in writing which can be referred to later if anyone starts asking awkward questions.

Then you get your friendly councillor to push through a temporary road closure order, citing the ‘record of complaint' to support it. This is subject to less stringent regulations and scrutiny than a permanent closure, which is well-nigh impossible to achieve.

And there you have it. Your leafy road is closed off to all those horrible people in their nasty cars who make your life so noisy, unpleasant and dangerous. And after a few years people forget that it was a temporary measure and accept it as the status quo.

Now I'm not suggesting for a minute that this is what happened in Park Hill and Chantry Road. But it is a fact that what was once a very nasty rat-run used by anyone wanting to avoid the lights at Moseley Village is now nice and quiet, and that property values there have risen by anything up to ten per cent.

I don't begrudge them their peace and quiet. I just want the rules to be fairly applied to everyone. If they can get their road closed off, why can't I ?

And if the closure was temporary, well the ‘problem' has been dealt with; let's open it up and get back to normal
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